School rules, Prodigals and Pharisees

This Fall I have a new appreciation for “secondary” holidays. As soon as the school calendar came in the mail in August I flipped through it and put all the school holidays in my calendar with little smiley faces next to them knowing that it meant that Hayleigh would be home and we would have sporadic days of our old normal. I am so much more grateful for Christopher Columbus, our Veterans, and Martin Luther King now. I know it sounds totally shallow to say I am appreciative of these incredible people merely because it means my daughter gets a day off from school to cuddle and craft with me, but call me shallow then, because it is true. I love having all my kids home with me. I love not having to change out of our pajamas. And I love just devoting a day to devoting myself to them, even if nothing else gets done (besides sleeping in and a late breakfast). So, call me lazy too I guess. Hayleigh is off school today and tomorrow. Lazy, shallow days like this make me feel guilty for ever taking it for-granted all those years when I had my hands on her all day long. It makes me try to make the most of those precious hours and moments I have with her now.

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All that being said, I feel I should also say that school is going really well. Hayleigh loves school. Early on she struggled a bit socially to find her niche, which I am not going to lie was pretty near heart-breaking for me. When she came home many days crying with stories of mean girls that sent me spiraling back and re-living my elementary years drama/trauma, it was all I could do not to swoop in and decide we really were going to move to that cabin in the woods and be hermits. But I stuck with it, and so did she.
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I knew having a child in school would be an adjustment for all of us. We braced ourselves to adjust, because despite reading books and blogs or talking to other parents, you never know exactly how your family will need to flex until you are living it. I have had to be a bit more structured with my time. I have had to become more organized. No more scrambling the morning of. I want Hayleigh to leave for school with a full bucket, not just a full belly. I would hate to have her leave without a feeling of peace and be gone for 7 hours. This has been a tough one for us at times because we had become so accustomed to leisurely mornings since Peter begins work around 9:30-10 am and Hayleigh was in afternoon preschool last year.  I have had to say “no” to more things so I can say “yes” to other things-like being very present and available from 3 o-clock until bedtime. I am not saying this is how it has to be. It is just what works best for our family, and I am thankful every single day that I get to be home with Braxton and Royce all day and there to pick be the one to see Hayleigh’s face light up as we pick her up every afternoon in the school cafeteria. I love being the first one to hear her stories, even if I often have to remind myself this is not an interrogation and the poor girl needs some breathing room.

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The first few weeks Peter and I were ready for a personality shift. We had heard stories of sweet 5 years olds becoming almost unrecognizable for the first month or so until they adjusted to being “on” all day. We were ready to give grace, ready to coach her (and ourselves) through the emotional tornado we had been told about. But it didn’t come, at least not in the way we expected. She held up really well to the physical toll. She was fairly engaged and energetic when she came home. She obviously missed Braxton and Royce and would jump right in to pretend play with them. We would hear stories from school, learn kids names and hear about her “specials”. What I was not ready for is her neediness and how it would manifest in unfamiliar ways. The past month or so has actually been harder than the first month. Hayleigh’s teacher is tough at times. I remember it from when she was my teacher. I have witnessed it first hand this year and heard some stories from Hayleigh. We know her job is not to nurture; it is to teach. And Hayleigh IS learning. It is so cool to see her learning the beginning stages of reading and math! Hayleigh is very much a “words of encouragement” love language girl. Her teacher does not give much positive reinforcement or really any warm, fuzzy feelings what-so-ever. Again, it is not her job to hug, nurture or praise my girl. And this is not how God has made her. We trusted that God would give Hayleigh the exact teacher he wanted her to have in order to mold her into the person He wants her to be. We are confident that the teacher Hayleigh has is that teacher. But many days Hayleigh comes home with her bucket leaking and nearly empty. She is craving all the attention and affection I can give, sometimes even more than I think I have to offer. When she isn’t getting what she craves some new behavior has arisen. Our once rule-following daughter, who is obsessed with the rules/ adult approval at school,  is testing the limits at home when she rarely ever has before.

I am feeling a bit drained from it all, but trying to remember what a wonderful opportunity this presents to remind Hayleigh of the Gospel. She and I are so alike. We are rule-following, people pleasers. Sometimes it is easy to kind of let Hayleigh “slip through the cracks” in my parenting because she is “easy” and “good”. Braxton and Royce are younger and have different personalities that demand more of my energy (and often force me to my knees in prayer). I am reading “Give them Grace” by Elise Fitzpatrick (Mommy friends, read it. Read it. Read it.) She talks about two types of children: Little Prodigals and Little Pharisees. It is easy for me to discipline my prodigals. Okay, not so much easy to discipline, as easy to see the need for discipline. I have ample opportunities to remind them of their need for Jesus’ forgiveness, to encourage them that Jesus has the power to help them do what is right even if their hearts still need Him, and to tell them how wonderful it is that God rescued us from our sins. It really seems like good news to the prodigals. Prodigals know they need help. Us Pharisees though, we are the ones to whom the good news doesn’t always seem as good. We are the ones who often receive praise based on our behavior or performance. We start to think we have got this figured out. Exhaustion and overwhelming guilt and anxiety often follow pretty closely, but when we are clicking along following the rules, getting the nods of approval, pats on the back and stars on our papers, we feel like “we got this.” We thrive on rules. Positive reinforcement is our friend. “Go ahead, tell me how good I am. Did you notice how I not only followed that rule, but I also made a newer rule to follow just so I wouldn’t even come close to breaking that rule??…just so you would think I am awesome?” Ummm….hello modern day Pharisee. Yuck.

School (and all the rules that come with it) and new behavior at home have presented me with fresh ways to share the grace of God with Hayleigh. Rules are never enough to make us “good”. We are good because of Jesus. Hayleigh has been very relieved to hear that while obeying the rules is important it doesn’t make God look at her and see goodness. The reason God sees her as good is because He looks at her and sees His Son. She will often pray “Thank you God for putting the Holy Spirit in my heart so I can never be alone, so I can make good choices and so you see Jesus.” Oh, what a sweet reminder that is for me, a Pharisee. The Prodigals obviously need Him. The Prodigals were Jesus’ friends. Us Pharisees have farther to go, even though we think we are just steps away. I want so desperately to raise children who know they need Jesus, not children who know how to keep all the rules. I want kids who know that their value lies not in what they do, but in what has been done for them-on the cross. I want to raise kids who know God could never love them less or more than He already does. And I want to know that myself.
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Lately I have been having such amazing and beautiful heart changes when it comes to understanding God, His love, His grace. I could go on and on, and maybe I will someday (lucky you!). But for now, I will leave it at this. I wasn’t prepared for this rule following-Prodigal-Pharisee-stuff to be the way God grew us as we entered the school stage. I was expecting for it to be in conflict resolution, peer pressure, curriculum issues, learned behaviors that needed to be unlearned etc. But once again, God has surprised me. Once again God is using Mommyhood to teach me things about myself, and more importantly, about Him.

"Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Matthew 9:12-13
I want my kids to know they need a Doctor, just like I do. I want to introduce them to the Great Physician. I think that is the best possible way I can love them.
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